1.1 Claims and carrots
You have seen two different perspectives on the question ‘What is an argument?’ In this session, both will play a role. But it starts with the idea of an argument as a connected series of statements to establish a definite proposition. First, this idea needs to be translated into plain English.
Rather than speak about statements and propositions, this will speak about claims. At the heart of any argument sits a main claim. A claim expresses that something is the case or should be the case.
Assume that you have been asked to discuss the claim ‘Eating carrots improves your eyesight’. That’s going to be the main claim, the claim you will be investigating. The ultimate goal is to arrive at a discussion of this claim that ends with a reasoned conclusion.
As a first step, you could try to find support for this claim. After some investigations, you may have found out that:
- carrots are a source of vitamin A.
- taking vitamin A can reduce the risk of poor vision in individuals with a vitamin deficiency.
That gives you the material for a first very basic argument. Your argument consists of a main claim, and the two claims (shown above) that support this main claim. The supporting claims provide your audience (and you) with reasons for accepting the main claim. These reasons may themselves require further support, and will be discussed again later.
In summary, a main claim on its own is not yet an argument. A basic argument requires at least one further claim that supports or opposes the main claim.